Search is on for phone volunteers

Rural communities hampered by the digital divide in the East Midlands are being offered a lifeline by a phone company piloting ground-breaking mobile technology.

Vodafone is looking for 12 communities to play a part in rural mobile coverage trials and get connected to the internet using fresh technology which enhances mobile phone signals.

The idea comes after communications watchdog Ofcom published a report this week which exposed rural communities as having some of the patchiest phone coverage in the UK.

The phone giant is pioneering “open-femto” technology which can provide vital connectivity, including 3G mobile internet, in rural economies with poor mobile signals.

Andrew Shirley, from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in the East Midlands said the lack of a mobile phone signal was a major issue for rural enterprises in the region.

He said: “We have been trying to persuade service providers to upgrade mobile phone coverage for a long time because a poor signal really inhibits people’s efforts to run a successful business in the countryside. Who wants to let a property that has no mobile phone coverage? It’s a serious problem.”

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey acknowledged that mobile phone coverage was vital for people living and working in rural areas.

He said: “Anything that increases mobile coverage is to be welcomed. I urge areas without mobile coverage to get involved and see if this trial is suitable for them.”

Communities interested in signing up for the trial have been urged to contact their local MP who will forward details to the company.